Archive for category Useful Plants

Agretti (Salsola soda)

Family: Amaranthaceae  Subfamily: Chenopodiaceae

Agretti, also known as Salsola Soda, Liscari, Barilla (Spanish) and Barba di Frate, Roscano or Agretto (Italian). A Mediterranean vegetable with thin succulent needle like leaves that grow on small bushy plants and is used mainly in Umbria and Lazio in pasta, seafood and fish dishes [1].

History Salsola soda is native in Eurasia and North Africa. Historically, it was well-known in Italy, Sicily, and Spain. In modern Europe, it is also found on the Atlantic coasts of France and Portugal and on the Black Sea coast [2]

Site & Soil It is a halophyte (a salt-tolerant plant) that typically grows in coastal regions and can be irrigated with salt water.
Temperature Min °C
Sow ? Feb-March Sept-Oct
Plant out ? April
Spacing 30-45cm apart
Crops in: 50 days
Harvest June-July
Seed Life 1-2 years
Germination 7-10 days

Propagation I sowed ia 1/4 tray in February and planted out in April.

Direct Sow 1cm deep spaced 10-15cm apart thin to 20-30cm apart. Some sources say this plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn. In hot areas I would tend to agree with that as it gets woody quickly in dry conditions.   

Care Keep weed free generally seems to be pest free

Harvest Salsola soda is harvested in bunches when small, or cropped regularly to encourage new growth when mature. Start cutting from the plants when they are about 6-8 inches tall. Cut the green tops or sections of the plant; it then will regrow

Botany and Seed Saving Franchi say agretti never has more than 50% germination due to the nature of the seed and its volatility. Wiki says the seed is notorious for poor germination at about 30% to 40% standard. The seeds I had were over 80%.

Use The plant has great historical importance as a source of soda ash, which was extracted from the ashes of Salsola soda and other saltwort plants. Soda ash is one of the alkali substances that are crucial in glass and soap making. Salsola soda has also been studied as a “biodesalinating companion plant” for crops such as tomatoes and peppers when they are grown in saline soils. The Salsola soda extracts enough sodium from the soil to improve the growth of the crop plant, and better crop yields result despite the competition of the two plants for the remaining minerals from the soil. [3]

Nutrition/Cooking Rich in vitamins & minerals. Best lightly boiled until the leaves soften but retain a little crunch, and eaten as a leafy vegetable or salad ingredient or garnish (much like Samphire). It can also be eaten raw or braised in olive oil. The flavour is grassy, salty and slightly sour and works well with seafood.

My Growing Notes

Agretti has been billed as a gourmet delicacy in Italy and in Japan, but, in truth, I didn’t really warm to this plant as a food stuff. It took a long time to develop and when it did I didn’t really like it. It had needle thin succulent type leaves on stems that became woody. It has a slightly acidic grassy taste with not much going for it at all. It is not hugely different in taste or texture to purslane but purslane is far superior in my opinion with a much better taste and crunchier, juicier texture.
I must admit I did not give it a fair go, as far as the kitchen is concerned, I did not even attempt to cook it. I munched on it as I went round the garden but, well it just didn’t inspire me to pick any and take it back to the kitchen. I could imagine using it in a late winter – early spring salad but in summer in Southern France there are too many other delicious contenders that would beat it hands down. So guiltily, knowing I hadn’t given it a fair shot, I put it out of its, and my, misery and pulled up the 6 plants and slung them on the compost heap.

I may yet give it another shot and try again and see how it crops in England, particularly in a warm wet and maritime climate like we have here in Devon. I would still like to try cooking it Japanese style or pickling it in soy or something like that. One thing for sure is that the leaves need to be used when young, 4 months after setting out and the stems were really too woody to use. This picture of the plant in early July is when, on hindsight it probably should have been picked, but it just seemed so small and hardly a mouthful

Some cultivation notes
The only cultivation information I had for it was ‘this plant is not a summer green and should be started early indoors or in Autumn’ from wiki or ‘plant as soon as ground can be worked’ from Seeds of Italy. I started mine late February and set out early April but it hardly grew until mid summer, when the heat seemed to trigger it into action. I think Colin, who I got the seeds from, had the same issue with slow growth. Here’s a link to a picture of his agretti growing Colin’s Agretti Seedlings.  I am not sure how Lieven got on. 
Germination
 was actually very good near 100% not the 30% to 40% as suggested by wikipedia 
Matures
 50 or so days according to Seeds of Italy definitely not the case in my garden.

Info Contributed by readers

Dimitris Makris wrote:  My name is Dimitris and I live in Crete. The name of Agretti here in Greece is “almira” which means salty. It’ s my favorite salad, you have to pick it up early when it’s tender avoiding the woody leaves. In Greece we cut the tender stems about 12 cm not the main stem and it grows again… how we make it as a salad here in Greece: just boil them (not much) put them on a plate and then add olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar and you’ll have the best salad for fishes or anything fried…

I also want to inform you that there is an interesting site about seeds exchange with no money here in Greece: http://www.peliti.gr.


[1] franchi

[2] info sourced from wiki

[3]

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Angelica

Angelica Angelica archangelica or Archangelica officinalis is an umbelliferous plant and member of the Apiaceae family.

Archangelica officinalis

From December to April the fresh young leaves of Angelica are at their best. Angelica is a lovely herb that self-seeds and establishes itself easily. It is a fascinating and useful herb that has been in use since ancient times, for both medicine and food.

History
The name is said (1) to come from medieval Latin herba angelica, which means angelic herb, a name given to it because it was believed that the herb could protect against evil and cure all ills. Other sources (5) suggest the name comes from the Greek angelos meaning messenger because, according to legend, an angel visited a monk and told him the herb would cure his plague stricken village. Another source (6) claims it is  named for the old saints day of  Michael the Archangel, when it comes into flower. In older times the herb appears to have featured in pagan festivals and was dedicated to heathen gods. Whatever its folkloric or linguistic roots angelica was growing in a large clump in front of our house, perhaps to ward off evil spirits, when we first arrived here. Since then I have used Angelica’s self-seeding capacity to spread it to choice spots around the place so we now have a healthy and plentiful supply.

Description

The plant is a robust, aromatic biennial if left to self-seed or a short-lived perennial if the flower stalks are kept cut back. Plants are tall, the flower stalks reach 6ft, and need plenty of space.  It has thick, hollow, ridged stems and long-stalked, deeply divided green leaves. Umbels of tiny green-white flowers appear in summer followed by ovate, dark, ridged seeds in late summer/autumn.

Growing Angelica Propagate from seed; collect seeds in autumn and sow directly where you want them to grow.  You can also sow in modules to plant out later  or wait until spring to sow direct. (NB I’ve read that angelica seeds (5) have a short life and that viability can start to decrease after about 3 months, I am not sure about that, I am not convinced that is so).  Plants do need plenty of water and space, a deep rich soil and some shade in order to grow happily in the summer months. They self-seed easily so If you want to prevent spreading cut down the flower stalks before they set seed.  Left to self-seed the new shoots appear in late winter.

Harvesting Harvest leaves before the plant flowers and use fresh or dry for use later. Here on our land the young leaves are at their best from late autumn to early spring. Harvest stems while they are young and still bright green and before the flowers appear. The seeds are best collected in the autumn when the weather is dry.

Culinary Use The fresh young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked as you would spinach, while the stems are traditionally candied and used in confectionary. Its aromatic flavours makes it a useful pot herb in late winter and early spring when not much in the way of fresh greens are available. The leaves are often stewed with tart fruits such as gooseberries and rhubarb, to counteract and sweeten the acidity of the fruit. Angelica is also used in the preparation of a number of liqueurs such as; Chartreuse and Bénédictine and sometimes in absinthe. Last spring I tried making Candied Angelica using a recipe from (5) but it really didn’t work. It was too sugary and the colour and flavour was lost in the lengthy cooking process required so if anyone has any tips on making Candied Angelica PLEASE do post your comments.

Garden Use An excellent variety to add to a perennial & self-sowing wild-life and edible hedgerow, along with Alexanders, Chervil, Korean Mint, Mustards, Chicories, Kales and Fennel.

Medicinal Use
I’ve been looking into the medicinal uses for Angelica because I had an awful cough that just would not shift, 3 months and counting, so I’ve been drinking Angelica tea as a remedy, it certainly has reduced the symptoms and is pleasant to drink. I thought it might be useful to post up the information I’ve gathered.

This information comes from a combination of the sources listed. I’ve included information only when two or more sources agree that Angelica is a good remedy for the specific properties and ailments listed.

Angelica has a soothing, warming, stimulating action on the digestion, lungs and circulation and is often counted as one of the bitter herbs used to make the gastric tonics often called bitters.  Angelica contains chemical compounds that can relax and sooth the muscles of the windpipe and intestines and is said to be able to loosen phlegm in the lungs.

In particular Angelica can be used as a remedy for:

  • respiratory complaints such as; bronchitis, asthma, pleurisy,catarrh
  • colds, flu & chills
  • digestive problems such as; indigestion, wind and heartburn
  • poor circulation
  • exhaustion and rheumatic pains (external)
  • swellings, itching and rheumatism. (external)

Preparations

leaves, stems dried roots and seeds are used. 
Infusion (tea)
 The fresh or dried leaves can be steeped in hot water to make Angelica tea.
Infusion (root tea) 1 tsp dried Angelica root is added to 1 cup boiling water and steeped 15 to 20 min. Take 1 spoonful 3-4 times a day 
Decoction
 The dried roots or stems are mashed and boiled for 8-10 minutes then strained. 
External use
 – add crushed leaves to a bath to relieve exhaustion and rheumatic pains. 
Poultice
 – fresh leaves can be crushed and rubbed on skin areas for swellings, itching and rheumatism.

Reference Sources
1.       A-Z of Natural Remedies by Amanda Sandeman
2.       Off-The-Shelf Natural Health How to use Herbs and Nutrients to Stay Well by Mark Mayell
3.       Herbs and Health Nicola Peterson
4.       Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses, by Deni Bown The Royal Horticultural society
5.       The complete Book of Vegetables Herbs & Fruit Mathew Biggs, Jekka McVicar and Bow Flowerdew
6.      The Country Diary Herbal Sarah Hollis

CAUTION
I think this is a herb to approach with caution because several sources provide a warning (4) that the fresh roots are poisonous, (5) large doses can paralyse or depress the central nervous system and Angelica tea is not recommended for those with diabetes as it can cause an increase of sugar in the urine. At one time large doses of Angelica were used to induce miscarriages so it is obviously a herb to use in moderation and with caution.

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Tarragon Stops Sneezing

Tarragon is not a herb that I use that much in the kitchen because not everyone likes it, but it really is a useful herb to grow even if you don’t cook with it. Rachel had been sneezing for several hours, after clearing the attic, when we went round to visit our friends, Geoff and Doug. She was still sneezing so they told her  to eat some Tarragon and all would be well. After some face pulling, she doesn’t like the taste of tarragon, the sneezing just stopped, absolutely miraculous!

If you are suffering from sneezing caused by an allergic reaction to dust or pollen (it works on hayfever too) chew on a little piece of the fresh tarragon leaves and the sneezing will just stop.

Pine pollen sets me off sneezing and Rachel is allergic to all kinds of pollen, dust, cats you name it, so I had better make sure I take better care of my tarragon plant now that I’ve found out how useful it actually is.

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